On Tuesday, Representative Tom Emmer (R-MN) introduced H.R. 4980, the Firearm Due Process Protection Act. This legislation is meant to ensure that eligible firearms purchasers are not arbitrarily denied their right to obtain firearms. The Act would afford those who are denied a firearm purchase by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) an effective and expeditious means of correcting any misinformation that would erroneously cause such a result.
In January, we reported on the alarming news that the FBI had “temporarily” suspended work on processing appeals of denials issued by NICS. The backlog of pending appeals at the time stood at 7,100. As we noted in that article, FBI data from 2014 showed that some 5% of the denials rendered by NICS that year were later overturned on appeal, meaning 4,411 people who had initially been erroneously denied were later able to vindicate their rights.
Of course not every person who is wrongfully denied will necessarily wade through the considerable bureaucracy necessary to challenge that decision. And the FBI’s figures account only for NICS checks processed directly by the FBI and not by the 21 states that handle some or all of the firearm purchase background checks for their jurisdictions. Thus, the actual number of wrongful denials is undoubtedly much higher.
Current law does provide for an appeal process, but it does not establish deadlines for action on appeals or provide consequences for the FBI’s failure to act on them. Even before the FBI stopped processing NICS appeals altogether, the turnaround time for a decision could stretch from several months to more than a year.
Rep. Emmers bill would address these problems in several ways. First, it would require the government to make a final determination on an appeal within 60 days after it received information in support of the claim. If the matter was not resolved within this timeframe, the individual would have the right to bring an action in federal court for a declaratory judgment on the person’s eligibility to receive and possess a firearm; a hearing would have to be held within 30 days after the action is brought.
If the government cannot establish the individual’s ineligibility at the hearing, the court would be required to issue an order for the government to correct or remove the erroneous records of NICS within five business days and to award the individual attorney’s fees and costs for the action.
Due process is a fundamental pillar of the American constitutional system. The purpose of Rep. Emmer’s bill is not to weaken NICS but to ensure that it functions as intended, blocking only legally prohibited individuals and not those who are misidentified or the victim of other bureaucratic mistakes.
As Rep. Emmer stated in introducing the bill, “Two months is a reasonable amount of time to run a background check and correct false information. Above all, citizens must always have recourse when denied a fundamental right.”
The NRA commends Rep. Emmer’s leadership in this important effort and urges swift consideration of the bill by the U.S. House of Representatives.